July 18, 2003
St. Patrick guitarist’s new rock CD explores the search for redemption, inner peace
by BILL HOWARD
DALLAS. When St. Patrick parishioner George Mahn seeks solace with God, he turns to his guitar.
The outlet is so powerful to him that he quit his job nearly two years ago and has devoted himself fulltime to recording inspiring, contemporary rock music. The professional musician is currently promoting his first full-length concept album, “Sanctuary,” a kaleidoscope of styles and sounds ranging from 1970s classic rock to meditative instrumentals and pop music.
“I have a wide variety of influences. Sometimes I’m listening to something like the Moody Blues or Eagles. Or maybe (Spanish composer) Joaquin Rodrigo or (jazz guitarist) Charlie Byrd. Or maybe the father of Bossa Nova guitar, Al DiMeola,” Mahn said. “Because of my diverse influences, I’ve formed a certain style of my own.”
“Sanctuary ,” which Mahn released last October under the name Vertical Leap, aims to show off those styles while keeping the listener focused on the spiritual lyrics. The album starts off with delicate guitar picking over a synthesizer soundscape and a drum track. Occasionally, he ventures into pop (“Sanctuary” and “Turned All Around”) and even full-throttle power guitar rock (“Sounds of Love”) as the journey moves from struggle to hope.
The CD is also another example of local Catholic musicians trying to reach into mainstream music circles.
The style is geared more towards people who are Catholic, but its also for the secular community,” he explained.
Mahn has been pretty much a one-man army as he tries to get his music out independently. He wrote all the lyrics and played all but one instrument (bass) on “Sanctuary,” but that is in large part because he wanted to stick closely to his vision of what “Sanctuary” should sound like.
In the CD’s promotional writeup, he says “each song captures a distinct moment in time, telling an authentic personal tale. The passages are designed to be intimate and introspective, so that they suspend reality and (allow you) to discover personal meaning and recall forgotten wisdom.”
Added Mahn: “The album starts out dark and goes through a redemptive process, a spiritual awakening.”
Which is just how Mahn’s life went leading up to the album. For Mahn, “Sanctuary” is the result of a journey that has taken him about 20 years to travel. He learned to play guitar as a teen and went on to study jazz guitar in college.
He tried to get work in Nashville after school, but a winding job path led him to Texas where he became successful as a manager in healthcare and information technology operations.
A painful relationship breakup led him to abandon his music for a while. Directionless and frustrated, Mahn eventually signed up for an Ignatian retreat at the Jesuit’s Montserrat Retreat House at Lake Dallas in 1997.
“That really helped me clarify my faith. I realized that God gave me my gifts and talents for a reason and I need to use them in service of him,” Mahn said. “You can do that so many ways. I’ve always pursued music and have had the financial resources (to do it full-time).
Mahn eventually quit his job, created his own production company – Gentry Avenue – and recording studio, and is now fulfilling his dream of being a full-time, professional musician.
Only half of the 10 tracks have lyrics. Mahn is big on instrumentals that place the listener in a mood for reflection.
“People like to listen to music in the car, and this helps them get through traffic,” he said. “Other people come home and relax to it. If a song has lyrics, it’s designed to help you reflect and meditate.”
Mahn hopes people will listen to “Sanctuary” and come out with a stronger faith in God.
“The record ends with, now I know God exists and I can live and thrive in the world no matter what the challenges are,” he said.
As far as Mahn’s challenges are concerned, record promotion may be the biggest, especially considering he rarely plays live – usually a mandatory part of album promotion.
“It’s hard to replicate the different sounds of a song live,” he said. “And I have a personal theory about promoting something live. Some bands play clubs, try to build a local fan base and then when it gets big enough, they go to other cities. But most don’t go anywhere or get a recording deal or recognition.”
There is a precedent for bands who were proactive with the promotion, like Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.”
While the bluesy and psychedelic hard rock of Led Zeppelin is not confused with Christian rock, Mahn said he was impressed with Page’s determination.
This band was very proactive. He really took the promotion process into his own hands and became a producer and started the whole Led Zeppelin era on his own and got record label support,” Mahn said.
Mahn cited other huge acts from the 1960s and ’70s like The Who, Steely Dan and Alan Parsons Project as smart-thinking bands like Led Zeppelin.
They put out a lot of music and received publicity without really doing live shows,” Mahn said. “You need support from major labels to promote it, which means you need a business background.
Mahn has hired a publicity firm, Musik International, which has among its past representatives The Beatles’ Paul McCartney. He has spent much of this year shipping his product to approximately 200 radio stations and several retail outlets.
Four songs from “Sanctuary” have found airplay time on radio stations in the United States and Canada, and he has been asked to do radio promotional spots for nearly two dozen stations.
On top of that, he has been studying the laws behind copyrights and songwriting royalties and is learning how to take advantage of the Internet’s far-reaching capabilities. He already has a Web site, www.gentryave.com, where his disc can be purchased.
There’s a lot of competition to get a person’s time. I’m trying to get a person’s attention, especially at a label,” he said.
When he quit his job, Mahn knew this tough road was ahead – especially financially. The business side, he said, has made it difficult to focus on writing the followup to “Sanctuary ,” another concept album he’s calling Sacred Promises.”
“It’s been very expensive to do this on my own,” he said, “but I think it has been worthwhile.”
He says he has no regrets about taking his own vertical leap.
“Sometimes I think I should’ve bought a sailboat instead,” he joked. “But then I’ll get positive feedback that lets me know there’s a foundation built.”